K.M. Nurul Huda, the new CEC


Sakhawat Hussain

At last after grueling months of efforts starting from President’s dialogue with 31 political parties of Bangladesh and subsequent setting of six members search committee ended with the quick declaration of new election commission for the country. A process which is regarded to be a routine matter ended up being the most talked about political event when one looks at it in simple terms. The appointments and the selection have further accentuated the debate over the selection process. Devoid of a provision in the constitution, every time the process is handled on ad-hoc basis which give rise to many questions. With a slight departure from the past, this time the search committee included two senior teachers from two leading public universities giving the process a different flavor. They thought it was wise to get the opinion of ‘16 prominent citizens’ on this issue. It certainly hyped up the expectations that a much effective election commission will be formed this time. It is direly needed to bring back sanity to the electoral process which was rapidly sliding downwards in last few years.

I was fortunate to be included in the group of the “prominent citizens”; not because of my prominence but because I had some technical knowledge of the process. The group included the former Chief Election Commissioner Dr. ATM Shamsul Huda and former Huda Commission Election Commissioner Mr. Sohul Hussain. We had shared concerns and opinions with a slight deviation. I highlighted some of my thoughts which I had produced in writing. Since then I had to face with the question, whether our ideas about the constitution of the committee were applied in selecting the members of the new Commission? The answer to my query will surface only when the nominated members start delivering the goods. Most of these members are unknown to the wider segment of the population. Some controversy has already begun with the appointment of CEC at the political and social levels.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the gap between my expectations and reality but to highlight the thoughts I presented to the Search Committee for their consideration in finalizing a list of names to be recommended to the President. It is to share my thoughts with the readers as to how my five years’ experience in the Election Commission blended with an empirical study produced my suggestions and eventual application.

While selecting members for the Election Commission of Bangladesh (ECB) one has to keep in mind whether the potential member knows and understands the character of an ‘expert based independent Election Commission’ as enshrined in the Constitution having a separate secretariat underneath. Therefore, ECB members so selected, must be able to maintain universally accepted principles of the institution such as Independence, Impartiality, Integrity, Transparency, Efficiency, Professionalism and Service Mindedness. Unless these characteristics of the system are maintained, a strong institutional base cannot be developed. The institution has already suffered and continues to suffer from a huge trust deficit.

As Election Commission is not a hierarchical organization while selecting members, it must be remembered that all members should be compatible to each other in rank, age and service. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) chairs the Commission and oversees the internal administration. Most of the time, the selectors ignored proper setting up of a system which then led to the complex issue of the imbalanced relationship among the members. All members have an equal vote while making any decision or policies about election matters. One has also to remember that Commissioners qualify to be appointed as CEC under the Constitution provision of 118(3) (b) therefore, equal weight should be given to the selection of entire Election Commission.

While selecting members, one has to remember that task of a modern election commission worldwide has gone beyond holding elections only. It is no more election administration but electoral governance which includes reform of rules (suggestions made to change or modify law), rule for implementation (utilizing plenary power) and rule for adjudication which includes adjudication of complaints and validation of results. Additionally, maintaining and updating the electoral database and National Identity card (NID) apart from administering 300 plus permanent staff and maintenance of 400 plus installations.

While discussing the qualification of member selection, international standard could be the framework which should also be blended with local, social and professional makeup. A person must not be known to be partisan or have had active participation with any political party or worked for any candidate or candidates as a coordinator or election agent or office bearer of any wing organization of the political party. A member should have a good administrative background as he/she has to deal with more than half a million government and semi-government officials and 3000 plus permanent staff. The person should be upright, transparent, have individuality, honest and bold in taking a decision. Last but not the least, at the minimum he/she should be a known face at the national level either through his/her work or deed. One can add more, but these are few qualities that is universally accepted for managing a nonpartisan organization that should maintain public confidence. I must add above all these qualities, commissioners must possess good quality as one has to deal with human emotion.

I was not alone in giving opinions. We discussed various attributes and opinions which were shared by my former colleagues and most of the invitees present. Be it as it may, one has to wait and see that our members of election commission have or will acquire these qualities. The Search Committee is honor bound to have picked out the best (in their opinion) and only then they will be a part of history either in the success or failure of the Election Commission.

An effective Election Commission was the order of the day and was a national demand. Election Commission alone cannot assure a free, fair and credible election but it is universally accepted that it plays a central role with constitutional, legal and plenary powers bestowed upon it. In Bangladesh public perception on Election Commission matters, thus it is important that selected members excel in delivering what is expected of them. Only time will tell whether the selected Election Commission will measure up to the people’s expectations.